Knowledge Network continues commitment to commercial-free programming in 2016-17 season

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      When Knowledge Network president and CEO Rudy Buttignol speaks to others in person about how a sizeable chunk of the funding for his public TV network comes from pledges, he often sees puzzled looks or blank stares.

      That is, until he describes it as "crowdfunding". Then the lightbulbs switch on.

      Crowdfunding isn't something new, even though the online world has slapped a new name on it.

      B.C.'s Knowledge Network has been at it since it began in 1981. Now, with over 38,000 supporters, it broke a record this year when it amassed donations totalling over $4 million.

      "Everything that we program is in the public interest," he told the audience gathered at SFU Woodward's for the public broadcaster's 2016-17 season launch on September 14. "It's there to help educate people, inform. It helps people stimulate debate, examine an issue that they're interested in, get people talking. It's really about public space owned by the public for the public, and it's partner support that makes that possible."

      Creative Galaxy

      Keeping the network commercial free is something Buttignol emphasized is particularly important for its young viewers. The broadcaster joined forces with the BBC to launch the BBC Kids channel, and also recently released the Knowledge Kids Go app.

      "I think it's really important for young kids as they get ready to learn, they get ready for school, that we shield them from the commercial pressures that they're going to get almost instantly," he said. "By the time they reach maturity, they'll have seen 20, 30,000 ads at least. So this is a safe haven for them."


      Director and producer Kevin Eastwood, who took to the stage to introduce a screening of a forthcoming episode from Knowledge Network's TV series Emergency Room, also thinks interrupting narratives with advertisement is "a terrible way to tell stories".

      "I'd say all art, but especially time-based work like music, novels, theatre, movies, television, are better when they can be more immersive, free of interruption," he said. "I mean, can you imagine how invasive it would feel if in the middle of a symphony…someone interrupted you to sell you a Big Mac?"

      Eastwood produced Emergency Room: Life and Death Inside VGH, a look at what happens inside Vancouver General Hospital's emergency department.

      After making two seasons of six one-hour episodes, the series was invited to shoot two more episodes on two very special days: Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

      Emergency Room: Life and Death at VGH

      Eastwood said that this time around, they'd take a new approach.

      "We thought we'd turn another eye towards the other party in the emergency room: the patient," he said. "Most people don't want to be in an emergency room at the best of times, and going into an ER during the holidays is literally that. It's not where anyone would want to be….I thought it'd be an interesting test of human spirit. How does one keep the holiday cheer while dealing with something very serious?"

      Going into the filming, Eastwood also wondered about who would want to work during those holidays.

      "Having spent those two weeks in there, I got it," he explained. "It's a pretty powerful place to be during the holidays. Sure, there's tragedy and sadness, but the flipside is people responding in really inspiring ways and it's what life is all about and it reminds you what's really important."

      Eastwood found that he "was honestly surprised" by what was caught on camera.

      "It sure puts everything in perspective when you see people who are facing real physical harm with such positivity and optimism," he said.

      The episodes will be broadcast in early 2017.


      Elsewhere in the upcoming season, for those interested in travel or learning about various cultures, there's plenty to choose from: Ireland with Simon Reeves (starting November 3) and Madagascar (starting October 15), narrated by Sir David Attenborough;

      There are also explorations on both sides of North America.

      Atlantic (starting September 24) examines the Atlantic Ocean's three zones: the north, the tropics, and the south while the two-part Masters of the Pacific: The Tribes of the American Northwest (start date not specified) with archaeologist Dr. Jago Cooper looks at the indigenous people and culture of the Pacific Northwest.

      Lands of the Monsoon

      Meanwhile, Lands of the Monsoons (start date not specified) takes a look at how people endure the rampaging weather system that dominates everything from Tibet to Australia.

      Fans of crime dramas, particularly British ones, have plenty to choose from. There's Line of Duty (starting October 21), Death in Paradise (starting December 9), and the female detective duo series Scott & Bailey (starting October 21).

      Topical issues are addressed in shows like The Super-Rich and Us, about the rise of the ultra-wealthy class, and We Are the Giant, filmed during the Arab Spring uprisings.

      Ireland With Simon Reeves

      For full details about these shows and more, visit the Knowledge Network website.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook